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Labour calls for inquiry into extent of political 'interference' by Israeli embassy

The opposition says the issue is a 'matter of national security'

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Sunday 08 January 2017 15:30 GMT
An Israeli flag flies at the Israeli Embassy in Kensington
An Israeli flag flies at the Israeli Embassy in Kensington (PA)

Labour has called for an inquiry after an Israeli embassy official was filmed discussing apparent plans to “take down” a Foreign Office minister critical of Israel.

Israel's ambassador to the UK Mark Regev apologised after Shai Masot was recorded talking to Conservative MP Robert Halfon’s former chief of staff, Maria Strizzolo, at an upmarket restaurant in Kensington in October.

During the conversation between the pair Mr Masot says: “Can I give you some MPs that I would suggest you would take down?” In response Ms Strizzolo appears to laugh, before responding: “Well you know, if you look hard enough, I'm sure there is something that they're trying to hide.”

Alan Duncan, Boris Johnson’s deputy at the Foreign Office, was named in the conversation as one of the “pro-Arab” MPs. Ms Strizzolo yesterday resigned over the affair.

The Foreign Office says it now considers the matter “closed” but Labour says the revelation that MPs, including ministers, were apparently being targeted is “extremely disturbing” and should be investigated as a matter of national security.

“The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing,” shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said.

“Improper interference in our democratic politics by other states is unacceptable whichever country is involved.

“It is simply not good enough for the Foreign Office to say the matter is closed. This is a national security issue.

“The embassy official involved should be withdrawn, and the Government should launch an immediate inquiry into the extent of this improper interference and demand from the Israeli government that it be brought to an end.”

The incident comes just over a week after Theresa May put herself at odds with the US government after Secretary of State John Kerry criticised the Israeli government.

Mr Masot and Mr Duncan have not commented on the footage. Ms Strizzolo told the Mail on Sunday her conversation was “light, tongue-in-cheek and gossipy”, adding: “Any suggestion that I, as a civil servant working in education, could ever exert the type of influence you are suggesting is risible.

“Shai Masot is someone I know purely socially and as a friend. He is not someone with whom I have ever worked or had any political dealings beyond chatting about politics, as millions of people do, in a social context.”

Ms Strizzolo has reportedly resigned from her role at the Skills Funding Agency.

Mr Regev said: “The Embassy of Israel rejects the remarks concerning Minister Duncan, which are completely unacceptable; the comments were made by a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat, and who will be ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly,” said a statement from the embassy’s spokesman.

“Ambassador Regev on Friday spoke with Minister Duncan, apologised for the comments and made clear that the embassy considered the remarks to be completely unacceptable."

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The Israeli Ambassador has apologised and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the Embassy or Government of Israel.

“The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

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